How is the acetic acid test used to diagnose human papillomavirus (HPV) infection?

Updated: Feb 20, 2020
  • Author: Peter A Gearhart, MD; Chief Editor: Pranatharthi Haran Chandrasekar, MBBS, MD  more...
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The method involves applying a 3-5% acetic acid–moistened gauze pad for 5-10 minutes on suspected lesions of the penis, cervix, labia, or perianal area. Inconspicuous, flat, genital lesions that might be difficult to assess become visible. Dysplastic and neoplastic tissues turn white (acetowhite). False-positive results are common and can result from anything that causes parakeratosis (eg, candidiasis, psoriasis, lichen planus, healing epithelium, sebaceous glands).

The acetic acid test can be used in conjunction with colposcopy to examine cervical lesions. However, this test is reserved only for suspicious lesions and should not be used for routine screening.

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